Best History Museum Ever!

Ok – it’s an odd fascination – but I actually enjoy History Museums – particularly if they are well done. They always tell you something about the culture of the country – or at least about what the government thinks is important to know.

Given the outlines of Current German history – Loved Napoleon, Hated Napoleon, Wanted a Democracy, Didn’t want a Democracy, Started World War I, Lost World War I, Had a Democracy that actually elected Hitler, Started World War II, Lost World War II, Got Divided, Got United, and now has a Democracy – well – the history museum in Berlin was bound to be interesting.

Particularly in comparison to say – Canada.

So we coughed up the big bucks – thank goodness for my Student Card – I was 1/2 price – and immediately started with the special exhibit on Leipzig 1813. Given that we’d just been there re-enacting the battle – seeing what the curators at the Deutsches Historisches Museum had to say was bound to be interesting. And it was. The exhibit – clearly taking the German point of view, started with a very famous painting showing the victors of the battle – the King of Prussia (Germany), Emperor of Austria and the Emperor of Russia – getting news of the victory. From there – the curators decided what to show – and what not to show.

The exhibit started with guns, wagon wheels and cannons – the tools of war. It also featured the skelton of a horse – found in a mass grave at the battle field site. From there it went into a brief history of Napoleon, from the point of view of his opponents. His errors are pointed out – and while mention of the Code Civil is made, the point is also made that the application of the Code was hardly even. Yes, feudal estates were broken up – but often they were just handed over to his relatives. And while his emphasis on promotion thru ability rather than family position was mentioned, it was also pointed out that his opponents learned the same lesson, and applied much of the same strategy by the end of the war. A lot of attention was focused on the forced draft in France – and the ‘volunteer’ armies of his opponents. Certainly the history they showed, and the history we thought we knew were quite different.

And as I’ve mentioned before – that’s what makes going to history museums in other countries so fascinating – there is always more than one point of view.

The exhibit ended with a short video about the re-enactment of the battle of Leipzig in 2012 – and in many ways – this was the most striking section. Instead of 6000 re-enactors – there were about 600 – and instead of using a portion of the actual battle field – they used the small field that we’d used to assemble just the french troops. Oh what a difference a year makes.

I left the exhibt amazed at the organization required to put on the re-enactment I had just participated in. It was incredible.

From that special exhibit, we worked our way over to the general section of the history museum, admiring the architecture as we went. The museum is huge – and we opted to skip most of it, and focus just on the sections that interested us most – 1778 onwards. The section for 1778 to 1816 – which covered the battles against Napoleon featured some wonderful pieces of art – including a painting of Napoleon in his corination robes – and most impressively – his hat, sword, and stirrups – left in his carriage at Waterloo in 1815 when he excaped after the disaster to Paris. Cool.

From there we read with great interest – and some surprise – the German perspective on the lead-up to World War I, the elation followed by the depression of the results of that war, and then the negative feelings about the treaty of Versaile. In the German history – it is that treaty more than anything else that brought about the conditions that allowed Hitler and his minons to appeal to such a wide audience. The museum contains a significant section effectively appologizing for the treatment of the Jews, the Roma, and the handicapped. There is no attempt to sugar coat that truth. The run-up to World War II is covered in great detail, as is what was happening in Germany during the war. After the war, the division is described, and the museum ends history in 2000 – 10 years after the fall of the Wall and the re-unification of Germany.

This is an outstanding muesum. Not one that you want to zip thru – but one that you want to slowly see – hear – experience. There are English signs in most sections, but getting the audio guide is well worth the small expense. The descriptions are absolutely reviting. We effectively got ‘kicked’ out by the closing bells.

Great Museum. Definitely a must go!


5 Hotels – 5 Cities – all different – all definitely European!

In Europe, the price you pay and the value you get seem quite independent – I say this because we’ve been in Germany and Switzerland for 4 weeks now – and stayed in 5 quite different hotels. All except the last have been ‘middle’ of the road quality – not brand names – not super spectacular – just well located.

Our needs were simple – in each of the cities we visited – Munich, Zürich, Nuremberg, Leipzig, and Berlin – we wanted the best possible location at a reasonable price.

In Nuremberg, Zürich and Leipzig – we had one further requirement – we needed parking.

We used only 2 ways to get our reservations – Hotwire (Berlin) and (all the others). The rates we paid varied considerably – and were definitely not in line with the quality of the hotel! I’m guessing it’s more a question of the city and maybe timing than the hotel itself. In any case – despite staying in really quite similar properties for size, location relative to featured attractions, double rooms in all cases with bathroom en-suite – the prices actually doubled from our lowest price option to our most expensive night stay. Amazing.

And in several of the hotels – namely the Atlanta in Leipzig, the Goethe in Munich, and the St. Gotthard in Zürich – our bathroom didn’t even have a tub – just a shower! An acceptable one in all cases though – and I have to say often I prefer a shower to a tub. Easier to get in and out of if you are seriously tired!

Our least expensive hotel is the Eurostar in Berlin. This is a fabulous hotel – 4 stars, with a breakfast price point to match (17.50 Euro – per person). But over priced breakfast buffet aside, the hotel is extremely well located – right next to the haufbanhof (Main train station), and a 5 minute walk to Museum Island in one direction and the Brandenburg Gate in the other. Ideal for exploring Berlin – although restaurant options – while plentiful, are hardly cheap. In fact – that’s probably my biggest complaint! Our room is on the top floor – with a glorious view of the city. The front desk is extremely pleasant and easy to deal with – and the spa – while lacking a whirlpool, has a lovely indoor swimming pool and 2 – count’m 2 – saunas. Both are clothing optional if you must know. I’d definitely rate this the best hotel we’ve stayed at – and it’s by far the least expensive. Under $100 a night. Go figure. Internet is free – although fussy – you have to sign in separtely for all devices, and repeat the sign-in everytime the device goes to sleep. Bottom Line – 5 Stars and a Definitely Stay here.

Next lowest price – the Hotel Atlanta in Leipzig. In this case – I’m not surprised at the price – just surprised we could get it that cheap since we stayed there during the Battle of Nations celebration. Everything was full! I suspect our great rate is more due to the length of our stay (4 nights) than anything special we did. And it included breakfast – which was absolutely perfect. Unlimited coffee, cereal, fruit, meat, cheese, lots of different breads and rolls and cakes, crepes, sausages, bacon, meatballs, and boiled eggs. I particularly liked the cheese selection – from Baby Bel’s to herbed cream cheese to traditional sliced cheeses. It was yummy. The location for our purposes was perfect. There was a free parking lot – and the hotel was just a 7 minute drive from the bivouac area for our re-enacting group. The spa offered a whirlpool bath (lukewarm – not hot), and a sauna – definitely clothing optional. But the spa had a nice sized resting area – and a lovely view. Room was nice and large – I could have used a fridge with more space – I had to remove their ‘charge’ items to put in my bread and fruit. And if I had to be fussy – the fact that you had to know to ask for bathrobe was weird. We only found out the hard way – went to the hot tub area – and everyone had one but us! Internet was an additional 17.50 Euro’s a week – but at least we only paid once for all our devices. And TV was additional too – if you wanted more than the basic channels. Bottom line here – 5 Stars – and a definitely Stay Here.

Next up – and it’s a big jump – (175 Euro a night) was the Hotel Agneshof in Nuremberg. But location, location! It was a wonderful location – off a quite side street – right under the eves of the Nuremberg castle, and right around the corner from a great antique shop selling discounted pewter mugs. Oh did I enjoy that shop! The Agneshof also offered parking – at 15 Euro a day – but an essential if you drove into Nuremberg with a car and no assigned parking place. Breakfast was a reasonable 7 Euro per person – and quite ample. They even offered my Cafe Macchiato – my favorite. The Spa was in the basement – rather cool whirlpool, but nice and clean, and a glorious sauna. Oddly the fitness equipment was in the same space – hard to exercise in a room full of steam and clorine. We spent every day out on the town – and quite enjoyed our stay. Bottom line – another 5 stars, and a definitely stay there again – but try for a better rate.

Top dollar prizes (Over 220 Euro a night) go to the hotels in Munich and Zürich. And I have to say – the hotel in Zürich was clearly worth the price – of the hotel in Munich – I’m not so sure. I’ll bet other people were staying there for a whole lot less.

In Munich we stayed at the hotel Goethe – picked because it was a middle of the road price – which says something about the prices of hotels around Octoberfest time if over 200 Euros is middle of the road! It was located in a very ‘mixed’ neighborhood, right by the main train station. I call the neighborhood mixed because our neighbors were either Casinos or shops selling sex toys. Walking the streets was an experience as well – there were ladies in full burka with only their eyes visible walking slowly past the bums and homeless you’d expect to see next to a train station. And most annoying – particularly for the price – the hotel is doing a major renovation – so there was no elevator. The front desk clerk had to carry our suitcases upstairs – thank goodness we were only on the first floor! Plus there was scaffolding outside our window – blocking both the view and the breeze. Most annoying – the light in the bathroom was on a movement sensitive switch. If you didn’t move enough while sitting on the toilet – the light went off! Quite a surprise the first time, let me tell you. No Spa, No fitness center, No Whirlpool. Just a tiny sitting area near the front desk, and an equally tiny breakfast area. Speaking of breakfast – at 7.50 Euro per person per day – it was quite a bargain. No fancy coffee – but there was fruit, meats, cheeses, eggs, sausages, and a selection of rolls and sweet breads. I particularly like the Stollen. I know it’s a Christmas Cake – but hey – you cut it, I’ll eat it! Thank goodness we didn’t have a car. Because of the construction – which took out the garden of the hotel, not to mention the entire front of the building – there was barely room to drive by the hotel, let along park. I certainly would have expected a better price given the challenges we had – but I suppose they charge even more when not in the midst of reconstruction. At least the internet was free. Not very powerful, but free. Bottom line – 3 stars and I’d definitely look for somewhere else next time I’m in Munich.

In Zürich we stayed in the Hotel Gotthard. Breakfast not included – and at 32 SF (about $32 per person) not happening for me. I just don’t eat that much food. Awkwardly – the first morning we walked the wrong way – and were in the ‘expensive’ part of town – no breakfast spots to be found. We ended up at the breakfast buffet of a ‘lesser’ hotel – and paid 22 SF ($22 per person) for breakfast. It became my personal goal to locate a better option. Eventually we walked the right way – into the train station – and for just 10 SF ($10) found a lovely breakfast place – they even included my cafe Macchiato for no extra charge. I love you for that! The hotel is an older grande dame – rooms aren’t huge – but they are comfortable, and for our purposes the location and car parking option, which while pricy, totally worked. I won’t say it’s the nicest hotel we stayed in (That definitely goes to the Eurostar in Berlin) but it was comfortable, had 2 elevators, and the staff was very nice. Internet was free – a nice bonus. So a clear recommendation – just try to get a better deal on the price!

So – not a terrible place in the lot, even the Hotel Goethe had its location going for it – but some clear favorites. And I’ve learned something I didn’t know about German’s and Austrians – Clothing is definitely optional in whirlpools and Saunas. So come prepared!

Picture below is our room in the Eurostar –


Report from the Battle of Nations 1813 (October 20, 2013)

A day in the life of a re-enactor – Fighting the Battle of Leipzig – 1813


I’m the Chirurgien aide-major on the left. On my right is a Grenadier a Pied of the Imperial Guard – Pavel. There’s been some discussion that perhaps I need a new nickname – instead of san-fatigue (tireless) – maybe La petite (The small) would be better.

But back to my day – which really started the day before – when our officers decided that we should get a look at the battle field – rather inconveniently located about 5 km from our bivouac site. So full dress on – and off we march.

The French army – at least the infantry portion – gathers in a large field about 1/3 of the way to the battle field itself to regroup. There are a lot of us – at least 2000 – representing several different nations – all fighting under the leadership of Napoleon. And boy – do we look good. Great uniforms, tight formations – we’re well-trained, well armed, and ready for battle.

We march to the battle field, drill in sections and then together, and finally march off again – clearing the way for others to get their chance at a look at the field.

On the march back, we finally get to see some of the enemy – it’s a group of Austrians on their way to the battle field – but that doesn’t stop us from mounting bayonets and charging. They mount bayonets and charge back! Such fun.


We disengage – and march on – back to our bivouac to be told – be ready to fight at 10:00 am tomorrow – but tonight you are free to drink and be merry. Right. For some it’s on to hours in the Rathskeller – for me it’s an early night. My stomach is seriously in knots.

10:00 AM (day of the battle) – We gather again at the bivouac site – we’ve eaten a good breakfast, and our support teams of vivandieres have prepared some slices of sausage for us to take with. As the Chirurgien Aide-Major (that’s Surgeon 2nd Class to you) – I prepare bandages in case the battle goes against us, and make sure I have plenty of water. Keeping the soldiers hydrated is one of my most important duties. And I practice amputations – besides putting on a bandage – as battle field doctors we’re more likely to have to cut off an arm or a leg then just about anything else.

10:45 AM – We march back to the ‘re-grouping’ area – and all the members of the troops fighting on the French side are assembled. Again – over 2000 strong – we’re looking good. No sign of any opponents yet – and that’s probably a good thing. I’m beginning to get nervous – and I’ve run out of water already. A fast trip to refill my bottles – then we’re off on our slow march to the battle field. Cheering crowds surround us en-route – and we feel like heroes. We’ve yet to lose a battle – are we perhaps feeling a bit too confident?


11:30 AM – We’re reached the battle field – and it is huge. There are people everywhere – all trying to get into position to watch the battle. I can’t imagine where you would have to sit to see everything – but then I spot a powered Paraglider – and I realize – that’s probably going to be the best view. Yup – he’s got a camera.

12:15 PM – We’re told to eat our lunch – and again – I’m out of water. 45 guys on a hot day – there’s a lot of water required. Another trip to re-fill my bottles – I end up at a local sports facility that’s been turned into a triage/hospital center by the local EMT guys. They have 6 beds ready, along with various other equipment. Issues may not be with the soldiers after all – there are 75,000 spectators expected – plus 6000 re-enactors – that’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. And one of the beds is already occupied by a bystander – I’m hoping it’s just heat related.

12:35 PM – I’m back where my division of Marine de la Garde had been sitting – and they are gone. Along with my satchel filled with water bottles and bandages. And all the other 2000 members of the French Army. Now what? All that’s left where before there were dozens and dozens of troops is an empty field.

12:40 PM – I spot a troop heading for a break in the huge fences set up around the battle field proper. My troop has gone into position on the field. It’s like chess – everyone has a place to start – and I’m late! I run as best I can – the field is very rutted – and slip thru the opening onto the main battle field.

12:45 PM – How different it looks today – Everyone looks so similar and yet there are significant differences. Calvary rides here and there – I see Polish Lancers in formation to my left. But I need to find the Marine. Where did they go? There are at least a dozen cannons that I can see – and I’m just at the top quarter – the field seems to go on forever. On the far side there are smudges of silhouettes – is that enemy? If it is – there sure are a lot of them!

12:46 PM – I spot what looks like a familiar uniform and head in that direction – when I get close – I realize it’s a completely different unit. But then I hear I high-pitched whistle. Following the sound – its my chief – the Chirurgien Major! He’s seen me and waves madly. I move quickly into position – no time to waste. The battle is set to begin at 1:00 PM – and this is Germany – it might even start on time.

12:50 PM – The emperor is on the field! We hasten into position – he walks by – twice – greeting those of us he recognizes, and generally being encouraging. His entourage is huge – more generals and aides then I imaged. And he’s afoot – I wonder if he’ll mount up later – or run the battle from the background. We shall see. But meanwhile – we give him 3 cheers – and I have to say – seeing him did make me feel better.


12:55 PM – Our troop is looking good. We’re right near the line of spectators – kept off the field by heavy fences set up all around. I spot non-combatants – those are the women and older soldiers who support the troops lined up on our side of the fence. We’re positioned right next to an artillery set-up – hope they don’t fire the cannon while we’re this close. It’s going to be seriously noisy.

1:00 PM – German timing – the Royal Horse artillery posed on the far side of the battle field – looking so small as to be more of a smudge than men – start firing off their rockets. Historically these didn’t work so well – mostly noise, little damage. And they haven’t improved the design. A lot of noise – but not much else.

1:15 PM – finally we’re called into battle. Our first and most important task – get about half way across the battle field and build a bridge over the ‘river’. It’s really more of a stream – but still – we need to get the bridge built so that our army can cross to capture the town on the opposite side. It’s about a km run – over rutted terrain – into the face of the enemy.

1:25 PM – we’re in position – 1/2 of the Marines guard the position from attack – we can see that there are significant troops lined up on the far side of the battle field – and 1/2 start to build the bridge. They get the logs into position, and then realize that during the night someone made off with the nails and hammers and more importantly – the planks – that had been placed near the location of the bridge. What to do – without the bridge – our troops can’t get across!


1:30 PM – Bridge building continues – and the search is on from nails, hammers, and planks. Meanwhile – one of our men has been hit by a stray bullet – probably from the snipers on the far side of the field – and we are called on to amputate his leg.


1:33 PM – we’re fast – Aprons on (don’t want to get our uniforms dirty), equipment ready – we bring the patient nearer to the spectators so that they can get a good view. 3 guys hold him down while he bites on a piece of wood (more to shut him up then to relieve the pain – if he gets much noisier the team holding him down have been told to hit him hard in the head. The noise is annoying the doctors). Personally I think the thrashing is most annoying. I guess a musket ball in the leg must really hurt.

1:35 PM – We’ve made the first cut – after putting on the tourniquets (couldn’t get it quite tight enough – but hey – it’s only the first patient – we’ll do better next time), the Chirurgien Major takes his scalpel and cuts away the flesh – leaving the bone exposed.

1:36 PM – I hand him the saw – and hold the leg steady against the thrashing of the patient. He saws thru the leg – then hands me the part of the leg with the foot attached to show the spectators! I hold it above my head – then toss it to the ground to help cap the wound.


1:37 PM – Perfect. Such a good job that the patient can get up and hobble away.

1:40 PM – Bridge is finally done – and we’re ordered into the village to protect the villagers. So we re-group – check on the patient (he’s fine – and back on the line) – and then march into the village. In the village are some members of a Russian Calvary unit whose horses were refused entry to the re-enactment – no papers. So they are afoot – and not that happy about it. But that’s not our problem – our problem is to protect the village. We form up along the village cemetery – to our left is another battalion of French troops – but ahead of us appears the enemy. And they are endless.


2:00 PM – After firing in volleys into the on-coming troops – our Calvary appears to help us. The troops of the enemy retreat – the Calvary rides away – and the troops re-appear. Fighting is hot and heavy! Suddenly their Calvary appears. The infantry men to our left form squares – which protects them. We’re standing in the cemetery – not good ground for Calvary – so they don’t bother us.

2:10 PM – Our Calvary comes back – a Calvary fight ensues – with quite a lot of close combat – and on the part of the Polish Lancers – some stabbing. No one falls off a horse though – they are all excellent riders. There are moments of quiet – followed by periods of so much noise it’s hard to think – let alone hear the commands of our leader.

2:30 PM – Fighting continues hot and heavy. We march out to attempt to take more of the field – and are forced back by heavy artillery fire. But first we take our first real injury. When you fire the musket, you must keep your mouth open to equalize the pressure – one of our soldiers forgets to do that – and is complaining that he can’t hear. We help him equalize the pressure – he eventually returns to the line.


2:45 PM – We retreat back into the village – and re-group. Our orders have changed – we’re to abandon the village – and move to protect another bridge to our far left. At that moment, the enemy mounts a bayonet charge against the remaining forces protecting the village. There’s nothing we can do – so we march out in orderly fashion, abandoning the village and the villagers. They are forced to flee – waving white flags and heading for the bridges.


2:50 PM – Looking back I realize that the village buildings are now ablaze. The fresh thatch must have been easy to light. I feel a bit bad for the villagers – but they are no longer our problem.

3:15 PM – we’ve maneuvered out way to our new position – and are defending the bridge at our back. We make a charge – take some causalities – as we pull back – our officer tells myself and the Chef doctor to go see to the wounded. We patch as best we can – and fall back. Another rally – another group of casualties. We’re in trouble.

3:30 PM – Our backs are to the bridge – but we can’t continue to hold that ground. Under orders, we re-group again and cross the bridge – determined to hold that side.

3:31 PM – I realize that we’ve left a soldier behind – and the officer gestures to me to take care of him. I run to his side, figure out where he’s been injured – and put on a bandage – accompanied by significant yelling and screaming by the wounded solider – all to the delight of the onlookers.

3:40 PM – We join up with a large group of Imperial Guard forces, and there’s a change in leadership. Our new leader is the head of the Guard – he’s on horseback – and he’s riding back and forth behind our lines getting us into position to defend the ground we gained earlier in the day. It’s not looking good, though.

3:45 PM – The King’s Foreign Legion is attempting to take our bridge – but we’re ready for them. 1/2 of our company is hidden from their view to our left – when they cross the bridge they are caught in a wicked cross-fire.

3:50 PM – Despite our excellent tactics, the enemy has crossed the bridge – and we’re forced further back. Now the commander of the entire French troop is trying to rally us and get us to stand firm.

3:55 PM – We’re being forced further and further back onto our original part of the field – between the soldiers coming in endless waves and the Calvary forays – we are unable to stand firm.


4:00 PM – The officers call for a cease-fire. There is still random shots being fired as soldiers discharge their weapons. As doctors, we tend to any wounded, adjusting bandages as needed. We also give all the soldiers a drink. Dehydration is a potentially huge problems as the day has gotten warmer and warmer. I’m officially out of water.

4:05 PM – The wounded requiring professional treatment are identified – there’s one soldier with 4 broken ribs – apparently another soldier got carried away and struck him on the side with the butt end of a musket, and there’s a face wound. A re-enactor with no experience held his musket too close to his face (its supposed to be on your shoulder), and the recoil struck his eye glasses, causing a superficial face wound.

4:25 PM – We get back into line, march up to the rows of spectators and are applauded and cheered. Now we must march all the way back to the bivouac. That’s almost 8 km from our present location – and we are extremely tired.

5:00 PM – We are about 2/3rd of the way home when one of our soldiers drops from dehydration and heat prostration. As the Doctors, we remove his backpack, gibarne (for carrying black-powder cartridges), and take his musket. We find him water from another group of soldiers, and eventually get his body temperature back to normal.

5:30 PM – Back at camp – everyone removes uniform pieces, gets a beer, and in the case of our commanding officer – and his sergeant – takes off their shoes to soak their sore feet. We trade battle stories – and agree that it was probably the best battle ever.


Man – did we have fun!